By Dave Thomas
Reprinted from Celebrating 25 Years of Smalltalk, SIGS Publications.
Smalltalk is much more than a programming language, it is a complete environment that
represents the true philosophy of open, user-driven computing. Smalltalk provides an
environment that makes programming fun for young and old, and it shields us from the
plethora of APIs and technology our industry calls progress. It respects the disparate
cultures of business programmers, students and systems programmers. Most of all it
encourages "we" programming as opposed to "me" programming. It is my
pleasure to share a brief insider's/outsider's view of Smalltalk since my first encounter
in the mid '70s--an anecdotal and, as a result though, an incomplete view of Smalltalk's
The Parc where Ideas grow I was not an insider to the birth of Smalltalk and its
evolution during the early years at Xerox PARC. An assignment with Xerox Data Systems
provided me with my first glimpse of PARC, ethernets, Altos and Smalltalk. At the time
Smalltalk didn't seem all that important; it was networked workstations and their
multi-window graphical interfaces that caught my attention. However, after spending
several years trying to build similar environment-based programming environments for
Pascal-like languages, the importance of an integrated object-oriented environment began
to hit home.
In the mid 70s it was very difficult to obtain information about Smalltalk and the work
of the Systems Concept Lab (SCL). During the late 70s everyone knew that Smalltalk was an
important contribution, but details of the system itself remained a mystery, described
only in occasional, tantalizing talks by Alan Kay and a small handful of papers, such as
Dan Ingalls' brief description of Smalltalk-78 and NoteTaker. It wasn't until a visit to
Xerox PARC in the early 80s that I was finally able to experience first hand the system
and its operation on a 'D-Machine' in a building referred to as "Parc Place".
During 1979-1980 persistent rumors circulated that Xerox would release Smalltalk in
some form or other. Unfortunately Xerox and Xerox PARC seemed intent on neither
commercializing nor publishing the results of the Systems Concept Lab (SCL) research. The
Smalltalk-80 specification was provided to various industrial partners such as Tektronix,
Hewlett Packard, Digital Equipment, and Apple for a technology evaluation, resulting in
much more exposure for the technology. Then suddenly, and strangely, an article appeared
in Datamation magazine describing Rossetta Smalltalk and claiming that Smalltalk
would soon be released. Within a few months the famous Byte article appeared,
followed two years later by the Blue Book.
These adolescent years of Smalltalk must have been a little frustrating for the SCL
team, with Xerox being unwilling to release the technology on one hand, while being
delighted to show it off to visitors, such as Steve Jobs. I suspect that some of the PARC
Lispians, being devoted followers of their technology, were not terribly supportive. Apple
subsequently lured away Dan Ingalls and Larry Tesler, and later recruited Alan Kay.
Moving From the Parc to The Street The next stage in the commercialization of
Smalltalk came from the work of Peter Deutsch and Allan Schiffman. They pioneered
efficient workstation implementations of Smalltalk using a technique called dynamic
translation, which traded a little memory for processing speed, and started the process of
making more practical workstation implementations of Smalltalk available. Their work
allowed ParcPlace systems (which had recently been spun off from Xerox to market
Smalltalk) to offer a high performance portable product. We all appreciate the efforts of
Adele Goldberg, Duane Bay, Peter Deutsch, Glenn Krasner and their associates for putting
their research careers on hold to move Smalltalk from PARC. Thanks!
What do you do if you don't have the real thing? Some of us on the outside tried
to clone our own. Several groups influenced by Smalltalk, explored naive independent
implementations in other languages and/or sought to provide the object-oriented facilities
in other languages. Objective-C, derived from work at GTE Labs on OOPC by Brad Cox is the
best known of these. DEC Trellis Owl was also strongly influenced by Smalltalk. While C++
was influenced by Simula, C++ frameworks such as UBILABS ET++ and the NIH class library
were heavily modeled on ST-80 MVC and Collections frameworks.
The Carleton OO Research Group These efforts convinced us that we should focus
our research efforts directly on Smalltalk. In 1984 we established the OO research group
with Wilf LaLonde and John Pugh at Carleton University. Thanks to Dan Ingalls at
Apple, Jim Anderson and George Bosworth at Digitalk and Glenn Krasner and Duane Bay at
Xerox, we were able to obtain the first beta copies of Apple ST for the Lisa; Digitalk
Methods for the PC and then a research license for Berkeley Smalltalk. Little did we know
that from such humble beginnings would emerge OTI, the Object People, ObjectTime, ST/V
Mac, ENVY/Developer and IBM Smalltalk. (Three professors and a lot of wonderful students
can make a difference!)
Since our primary funding sources were in the area of embedded systems, we selected
industrial process control and real-time as an application context for our research. At
this time the language research community which controlled funding was far more interested
in supporting work on logic programming or efficient code generation for 3GLs, and our
proposals for work on concurrent object languages met opposition within the academic
research community. Fortunately, we found a believer in Dr. Brian Barry, then with the
Defense Research Establishment (DREO) in Ottawa (and now Vice President, R & D of
OTI). A close relationship developed between Carleton's OO research group and DREO through
which, among other things, Actra (a Smalltalk version of the Harmony multiprocessor
multitasking OS) and the beginnings of ENVY/Developer were implemented.
Our research in the Actra project on multitasking Smalltalk showed that Smalltalk
provided leverage as a modeling environment, but left lots of questions about its use as a
development and delivery environment. We investigated the automatic translation to Ada and
C only to conclude that the best investment was the direct use of the Smalltalk, augmented
where appropriate by routines written in C or Ada.
In 1988, myself and graduate students John Duimovich, Dave Thomson and Mike Wilson
moved from the Carleton OOPS Lab to form OTI. Two years later John Pugh, Wilf Lalonde and
Paul White formed the Object People.
Digitalk - The Little Smalltalk with the Big Impact Also during the early 80's,
a small group at Computer - Sciences Corporation (CSC), was excited by the vision of
Smalltalk and didn't know that it couldn't be implemented on an 8086-based DOS machine.
The result was Digitalk, which delivered what few thought possible, Methods and then
Smalltalk/V, a complete graphical Smalltalk on a 512K PC/AT! Bringing years of compiler
development experience from CSC, Jim Anderson, teaming with George Bosworth, Barbara
Noparstak, and Michael Teng, followed up with Smalltalk/V 286 in 1988. George and Jim
brought Smalltalk to the masses. Digitalk Methods and Digitalk Smalltalk/V and Smalltalk/V
286 have played a crucial role in popularizing Smalltalk. During 1987-1989 we had the
opportunity to work with Digitalk to develop ST/V Mac using machines loaned to us from
Alan Kay. Few realized that Alan dreamed of a new generation Macintosh to support his
ambitious Vivarium project, hence the "V". Smalltalk/V Mac was the first
Smalltalk to support the look and feel of the Mac. When it was first shown at OOPSLA '88,
the Mac look was completely emulated-- much to the surprise and upset of some Mac
aficionados. While Apple canceled its ST effort, and encouraged its early developers to
move to ST/V, Apple failed to put the momentum behind Smalltalk and lost its leadership
position in interactive programming tools.
For PC centric corporations ST/V 286 was the first product to allow the development of
business and engineering applications. Andersen Consulting made a substantial commitment
to Smalltalk VPM to develop and deliver their Foundation tool. ST/V 286 and following
32bit releases VPM, VWIN and VMAC provided the foundation for many developers including
OTI, Coopers and Peters, ObjectShare, Synergistic Solutions, Polymorphic and Dynamic
Network Solutions (DNS).
Tektronix - Smalltalker Engineering Central Tektronix provided the first
integrated Smalltalk environments, disguised by Tektronix as AI workstations, but we all
knew that the workstation division was really making Smalltalk machines. Their large
displays and clean implementation provided the first independent commercial implementation
of Smalltalk-80. While Xerox may have fumbled the future, Tektronix let it fade away. In
the mid 80s Tektronix was home to some of the best research and engineering talent that
could be assembled in one place.
During 1987, 88 and 89 I had the opportunity to see the work of several groups at
Tektronix. One of the most enjoyable experiences was watching Kent Beck (First Class
Software) and Ward Cunningham (Cunningham and Cunningham), sharing a mouse while working
on Hot Draw and the literate program browser. It was a software duet that would be
difficult to duplicate. During a subsequent visit I had the opportunity to experience
first hand the simplicity of CRC cards with Ward and Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, and to see the
beginnings of Rebecca's distillation of her experience into what is now known popularly as
Responsibility Driven Design. It is wonderful when someone who does, also writes and
There were numerous products in that unstable state of prototype without management
support to ship them, including very impressive CAD design tools by Dale Hendrichs, which
married Smalltalk and Pspice to custom build chip simulations; and a virtual instrument
programming system by the signal processing group. Rebecca, Mike Miller, Juanita Ewing et
al were just finishing Color Smalltalk and Allen Wirfs Brock and Brian Wilkerson were
working on Modular Smalltalk, which continues to inspire their efforts today.
Tektronix was our first customer for embedded Smalltalk, developed as a joint project
between OTI, Digitalk and Tektronix and the Canadian Department of National Defense. The
shipping of a family of oscilloscopes was a testimony to the flexibility of the technology
and to the excellence of the Tektronix engineering team of Steve Lyford, John Wiegand, Don
Birkley, Jocelyn Yu, Alan Dotts, Rich Austin, David Olson and Rolf Anderson. The failure
to capitalize on this leadership was a lost opportunity for a whole new generation of
products. Unlike Xerox, which never got Smalltalk into products, Tektronix successfully
shipped an entire family of products. Although Tek continues to build new scopes in the
original product line, unable to make the management decisions needed to spread the
technology further within Tektronix, Smalltalkers left to new ventures at Instantiations,
ReUseable Solutions, ByteSmiths, Cunningham and Cunningham, First Class Software, McKenna
Consulting and Knowledge Systems Corporation.
OOPSLA - The Meeting Place for Objects During these years OO practitioners were
not in the mainstream. Access to R&D funding was limited. Existing academic
conferences spurned OO contributions. The OOPSLA conference was created out of necessity
for like-minded people to gather. No one expected that 1000 people would attend OOPSLA'86
in Portland or that today, OOPSLA would regularly draw over 3000, making it one of the
largest and most profitable ACM conferences. The organizing meeting for OOPSLA'86, hosted
at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, provided us with one of the first opportunities to
meet other implementers and users including Glenn Krasner, Kurt Schmucker, Peter Deutsch,
Alan Borning, Allen Wirfs Brock, Dave Ungar, Alan Purdy, Brad Cox, Jeff McKenna and Angela
XSIS and The Customer Information Analyst Why would Xerox develop an incredible
spreadsheet that could display images, conjugate Russian verbs and why did that happen in
a strange group called XSIS located in Los Angeles and Washington? Apparently they had an
important customer with a lot of complex information to analyze. How did Angela Coppola
know that 1000 people would show up for OOPSLA'86 when the PC committee predicted 100-200?
What sort of technology could the National Security Administration use to print Chinese
leaflets circa 1978? The Xerox Analyst served the CIA as a analytic tool for many years.
Even 13 years later it still offers tools more powerful than MSOffice. The Analyst is
still alive and well and forms a key component in TI ControlWorks Wafer Fab Automation
Europe One of the early European users was Georg Heeg, who excited colleagues at
the University of Dortmund in Germany into taking up the Smalltalk challenge. Georg
developed an implementation of ST-80 for the Atari computer as well as numerous
enhancements including forms, and distributed objects.
Texas Instruments ControlWorks--The Ultimate in Smalltalk ROI? In the late 80's
a talented group of engineers at TI led by John McGehee embarked on a project to build a
fully-integrated, model-driven, automated silicon wafer fabrication facility (fab).
ControlWorks is Smalltalk through and through with workstations running PPS ST-80
including the Xerox Analyst and TI's own GUI Builder, a forerunner of VisualWorks. OTI
Embedded Smalltalk technology is used in the controllers, Servio Gemstone provides the
object database and OTI ENVY/Developer manages the code for the entire system. According
to TI, ControlWorks managed fab saved TI the equivalent of 1.2 fab lines last year. What
does a fab cost? roughly $1B! It is no wonder that even Japanese semiconductor factories
are interested in the increased productivity resulting from the use of ControlWorks.
Beyond SoftSmarts and Momenta Steve Burbeck, Jerry Latter and Abdul Nabi took
work begun at the Linus Pauling Institute into a start up company called SoftSmarts.
Softsmarts developed the first implementation of Xerox ST-80 for the notorious 286
architecture. Unfortunately the market wasn't big enough in the late 80s to support PPS,
Digitalk and Softsmarts and Softsmarts folded. Abdul and Steve both went on to make
important contributions to KSC.
Abdul, Steve Utt and Phil Rubesin did their best to bring Smalltalk to Pen computing
with their efforts at Momenta. This proved that Smalltalk was a viable platform for Pen
Computing, but they were ahead of their time and the hardware and user populations were
not ready to satisfy the ROI of the Momenta VCs. Momenta perished along with GO and
Electronic Book, an ARM-based Smalltalk-80 Pen computer. Today DevTeamOne continues to
provide the best Mobile PDA framework expertise in the Smalltalk community.
KSC - The Prototypical Smalltalk Services Business Reed Phillips assembled a
great team at KSC, which pioneered the apprenticeship program that has served as a model
for intensive education in the Smalltalk industry. Sam Adams brought customer's ideas to
life while sharing their mouse. While at KSC Sam and Steve championed the concept of Well
Defined Objects as a technique for supporting the evolution of software systems. Ken Auer
almost single-handedly codeveloped a manufacturing simulation with HP specialists. New
implementations continue to appear with QKS Smalltalk Agents and Smalltalk X entering the
market beginning in 1993. Only time will tell if these implementations can acquire the
market share of the major vendors. New vendors with new ideas help in maintaining vibrant
growth in Smalltalk technology.
Smalltalk, and indeed object-oriented technology are only now gaining wide-spread
popularity in academic institutions. The current shortage of graduates with well-developed
OO skills is a testament that we still have a way to go in developing an adequate supply
of courses. Initially the complexity of Xerox licensing and distribution slowed its
growth. However Digitalk Smalltalk/V improved the situation greatly by enabling
undergraduates to learn Smalltalk without the need for expensive workstations. Carleton
University bravely introduced Smalltalk as the introductory programming language and
hasn't looked back since. Today, most Smalltalk vendors have aggressive, low cost
university licensing programs. The teaching of OO itself has developed into an active
research area with contributions from industrial labs such as Mary Beth Rosson, Chamond
Liu and Dave Collins at IBM as well as university faculty including Ralph Johnson, Jean
Bezivin and Trevor Hopkins, Mahesh Dodani and Tim Budd
While the ideas embodied in Smalltalk have stood many tests of time, researchers
continue to identify areas in which the environment and implementations need to improve.
Carleton investigated multiprocessing, exemplars, new user interfaces, programming by
example, use of Smalltalk in various engineering and business domains as well as
collaborative development. The Self research effort of Dave Ungar and Randy Smith explored
the power of prototype-based languages, numerous issues in efficient implementation, as
well as new user interfaces. Alan Borning and his students, including Bjorn
Freeman-Benson, continue to explore the use of Smalltalk as a platform for constraint
programming. At the University of Illinois, Ralph Johnson investigated typed Smalltalk,
and was one of the first academics to pick up Kent and Ward's inspired work on design
In the UK, most Smalltalk activity was centered at QMC, where Steve Cook and his team
developed an ST80 for the Acorn Risc processor and at Manchester, where Trevor Hopkins,
Mario Wolezko and their students investigated specifications and architectures in the
In France, Pierre Cointe showed how metaclass programming can be used to extend
Smalltalk to model many languages including many of the proposed extensions of Smalltalk.
Jean Bezivin explored problems in simulation, semantic networks, re-engineering of COBOL
programs and methodology for OOAD. Francois Pachet in Paris continues his efforts in
expert systems using Smalltalk as a platform.
In central Europe Smalltalk is in collaborative projects in the Gesellschaft Fuer
Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung (GMD), as well as the Universities of Ulm, Stuttgart,
Darmstadt (FH) and Ilmenau.
In Japan at Keio University, Mario Tokoro et al contributed to the development of
Servio - Persistent Smalltalk Ahead of Their Time OOPSLA'86 is when I first
learned of the pioneering work of Dave Maier, Allen Otis et al at Servio who developed
their own server Smalltalk (Stone) as a basis for an object-oriented database, GemStone.
Gemstone has continued to evolve as a strong member of the Smalltalk family. Recently
other vendors such as Object Store have made serious efforts to integrate Smalltalk with
their otherwise C/C++ oriented database/persistent store.
One measure of a maturing market is the existence of successful third-party vendors who
fill in the gaps in vendors' offerings and add value through alternative solutions and
value-added products. Today we have over 25 third-party vendors in our ENVY/Developer
enabled program, many of whom offer products for multiple Smalltalk vendors. They include,
Object Share, Polymorphic, Micado, MicroDoc, Reynolds and Reynolds, First Class Software,
as well as the ODBMS vendors Object Design, Versant, Ontos, and Servio. Third-party
vendors look forward to the expansion of the IBM Connection program, the ParcPlace
Partners Program and similar offerings by other vendors.
Services, Services and More Services Firms such as Knowledge Systems Corporation
and The Object People have provided high quality training, mentoring and consulting
services as well as integration services. While PPS-DT, IBM and Gemstone provide training
and consulting, third parties such as KSC, The Object People, Polymorphic, DNS Inc.,
Rosenthal, Linea, ByteSmiths and ObjectEdge, provide a healthy, competitive ST consultants
marketplace. Some of the smaller firms have been successful at major projects at financial
institutions, power companies and engineering organizations.
Major Vendors Bring Smalltalk to the Enterprise Much to the surprise of many in
the industry, HP introduced HP Distributed Smalltalk as a key building block in its
distributed applications technology. Recently HP has complemented this offering with the
Odapter interface to OpenDB allowing ST access to AllBase and Oracle. HP DST has allowed
HP and PPS to jump in early into Unix based client/server computing with Smalltalk.
IBM entered the market in 1993 with ENVY/400 as their first Smalltalk-based
client/server development environment and followed in 1994 with VisualAge and IBM
Smalltalk, both developed jointly with OTI. Recently IBM has demonstrated IBM Distributed
Smalltalk and IBM MVS Smalltalk. MVS Smalltalk sends a message to the last doubting
Thomases that IBM is serious about Smalltalk. IBM's commitment to OO and Smalltalk is
evident in IBM's aggressive recruitment of Smalltalk consultants and developers worldwide.
It has also acquired Toronto-based Footprint, a company that develops banking products in
Smalltalk. IBM and HP enterprise customers have voted with their budgets to move major
applications from COBOL and proprietary 4GLs to Smalltalk.
Recently DEC has announced an agreement with PPS to provide VisualWorks for the DEC
Alpha NT and OSF platforms. DEC has also supported OTI in providing ENVY/Developer for
these platforms. Also MITS, in Melbourne has an agreement with PPS and OTI to provide
VisualWorks and ENVY/Developer for Vax platforms.
In Europe, Dr. Naetar and Mr. Ralph Mueller lead teams at Siemens Nixdorf developing
banking platforms. Their efforts culminated in 1994 with the introduction of FINIS, a
retail banking platform for large banks under the leadership of Ing. Rudolf Kemler and Dr.
IBM Says "It's OK for IT to Use Smalltalk" It was IBM's investment and
push that gave major credibility to Smalltalk in the eyes of the business community.
IBMers including Nori Suzuki, John Richards, Rich Demers, Jerry Archibald, Dave Smith,
Cliff Reeves, Chamond Liu, Phil Hartley, Dave Collins, Mary Beth Rosson, Rick Denatale,
Dave Dykstal, Jim Harens, Mel Mumper, Martin Nally, Hayden Lindsey, Yen Ping Shan, Skip
McGaughey, Steve Mills, Al Zollar, Becky Pridgeon, Daniel Tkach, Martin West, and Lee
Griffin saw the potential in the technology and worked to introduce Smalltalk as a vehicle
for understanding OOP. Some analysts believe that IBM Smalltalk may be as significant for
applications software as the IBM PC was for hardware. Fortunately for IBM their customers
were even more enthusiastic users then even they expected. After several misqueues with
AD/Cycle, Office/Vision, Metaphor/Patriot Partners, IBM has a product that customers
Major applications include insurance, network management, billing, trading systems,
retail banking such as Footprint (now IBM) Visual Banker.
Applications programming is a challenging and intellectually stimulating activity.
Smalltalk is an environment which supports such complex application development.
Smalltalk's success is due primarily to this focus on applications and customers. This
focus will serve us well in the future as we extend the language, environment and most
importantly our class libraries. By sharing a common vocabulary and environment we have
made the process of software conception and development tangible and rewarding. Smalltalk
has always been about a way of programming together, more than a language or a suite of
tools. Smalltalk continues to surprise me with its flexibility and robustness, even when
it has not been designed in. In the coming years our community will step up to meet the
real challenge of RAD-reliable enterprise applications constructed from prefabricated
parts. I expect these years to be every bit as interesting and demanding as the early
Dave Thomas is founder, President and CEO of Object Technology International Inc. and
Adjunct Research Professor of Computer Science at Carleton University.